"The Blood-Dimmed Tide is Loosed."
With their season on the line, the Jackets needed to stand and deliver to keep their hopes alive. Despite the Blues coming in on the second night of a back to back, the Jackets didn't seem to have much jump early. Worse, the life would get sucked out of a healthy Nationwide Arena crowd when Kevin Shattenkirk sent a long angled shot in from the blue line that managed to just barely tap in off the opposite side post. The team that has had Columbus' number all season seemed to pick up right where they left off .
Things could have gone from bad to worse when Jared Boll went to the box on a roughing call on the next shift, but instead the Columbus bench seemed to take up the gut check. The PK was motivated and strengthened by the return of Brandon Dubinsky, but perhaps the most remarkable sight was watching Jay Bouwmeester forced to retreat deep into his own zone thanks to a tenacious attack from Cam Atkinson.
Despite being heavily outshot, Sergei Bobrovsky came up with the big saves when he needed to, and the Jackets began to slowly take back their ice. Finally, late in the first period, the club got the break they needed when Adrian Aucoin teed up a booming shot from the blue line that deflected off Matt Calvert and Cam Atkinson before surprising Jake Allen and snapping the Blues' shutout streak at over 215 minutes. (The St. Louis netminder's reaction really has to be pointed out for sheer hilarity - never before have I seen a goaltender so clearly say "How did THAT happen?")
Fans held their breath for an eternity while the goal was reviewed by the war room, but the call on the ice stood, and the game was tied with just over three minutes to play in the opening frame.
The Jackets would need to answer the bell almost immediately when a major scrum ended with Dalton Prout going to the box for a hook despite Chris Stewart starting the fray. This was a major trend through the entire game - the Blues played a physical game that the Jackets clearly thought crossed the line on more than a few occasions, but the officials turned a blind eye. Perhaps appropriately, the Jackets were seeing a playoff standard of officiating in what amounted to the first game of their playoff series.
By all reports, head coach Todd Richards challenged the team in the intermission, telling them it was time to play a Man's game. The club would respond, giving as good as they got physically, putting increased offensive zone pressure, and finally breaking through when Brandon Dubinsky battled for the puck behind the St. Louis net, turned, fired, and put the puck on the doorstep for Artem Anisimov, who elevated it over Allen's leg and into the back of the net.
The goal seemed to set the Blues back on their heels, and the crowd responded, cheering loud and hard. The team clearly fed off the energy of their fans, and pushed themselves into the next gear.
R.J. Umberger, who had been having a bit of a rough night, including losing out on a wide open wraparound after a fluky deflection off Barrett Jackman's stick, was clearly fired up, and showed why he can be such a dangerous player when it matters. Driving into the zone, he protected the puck and gave the offense time to set up.
Sending the puck back to James Wisniewski, a hard shot would hit Allen's pads, and while Nick Foligno wouldn't be able to drive it home, Ryan Johansen would be waiting to clean up the garbage to put the club ahead 3-1 and bring the fans to their feet through the end of the period.
With a two goal lead and 20 minutes left to play, things could easily have turned sour. While this club has shown increasing mental toughness, their history is littered with games where a "huge" lead melted away to an eventual OT or shootout win at best...and a regulation loss at worst.
Instead, they put the skate on St. Louis' neck, and stomped.
Fans had barely gotten back to their seats when Mark Letestu took off on an odd man rush with Marian Gaborik after a perfect setup from Vinny Prospal. Showing a fantastic mix of speed and paitence, Test Tube waited until he had the perfect lane right in front of the net, and sent a textbook cross-crease pass to Gaborik. #10 would nail the shot with a move that was half backhand, half redirection, and the Jackets were up 4-1.
Neither club would score again for the remainder of the game, but that didn't mean things were uneventful. Scrums seemed to follow every whistle, and things finally boiled over when Kevin Shattenkirk responded to a hard (but clean) hit from Jared Boll by crosschecking the agitating winger in the face. Both sides converged on the fray, and the officials were forced to separate several dance partners, finally sending Shattenkirk to the box for roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct minors, giving the Blue Jackets their first power play of the game with less than three minutes left.
The Jackets did not connect on the power play, and Roman Polak would draw a somewhat borderline tripping call against Nick Foligno to even up the ice. It easily could have finished that way, but surprisingly Polak would draw another call in the final minute of play, getting into a scrum with both Matt Calvert and Brandon Dubinsky that ended with Calvert being sent to the showers for roughing, and Dubinsky ejected with a game misconduct.
St. Louis might have decided to try pulling Allen for the simple matter of scoring a goal for spite, but it seems Ken Hitchcock accepted the need to fight another day. The goaltender would remain in his crease, and the Jackets would come streaming off the bench to celebrate with Sergei Bobrovsky as the fans roared approval.
Final Score: Jackets 4 - Blues 1
- Sergei Bobrovsky - I understand why Bob wasn't a star of the game at Nationwide tonight, but if he hadn't been...well...BOB...this game could have easily gone the other way. He stopped 31 shots tonight, and even though maybe 8 of them were truly dangerous, he still made the clutch saves at the right times.
- Ryan Johansen - Not a bad performance for his 100th game, huh?
- Artem Anisimov - The game winning goal was huge, but AA did pretty much everything one could ask tonight, winning faceoffs, driving play, killing penalties, and stepping up.
Bottom of the Barrel:
- Slow Start - The team recovered, but it's a walk on a knife edge. If things had been a little different, the Jackets easily could have been in a hole they couldn't recover from.
- Officiating - It's one thing to let the boys play, but this game was on the edge of getting out of control, and the outbursts of the final minutes could have been far, far worse. I honestly expected someone to leave this game with a major injury.
- The Wave - I'm THRILLED the fans got into the game, but...the wave? Really? Well, maybe we were waving the Blues goodbye...
The win was incredible - perhaps some of the best atmosphere I can remember at Nationwide since the playoffs. The club rose up and gave one hell of a show in their second to last home game, but the job isn't done yet.
Tonight, they can smile a bit on the plane, but Minnesota is waiting for them, backs against the wall. Dallas is still in the hunt. Phoenix is still chasing. The Red Wings won't go away quietly.
The team showed they have what it takes to win against a playoff quality team playing playoff quality hockey. Now they have to prove they can do it again.
Survive and Advance.